If You Give a Librarian a Cookie…

I’ve always loved to bake. When I was in high school, I would make a dozen kinds of Christmas cookies every year, pack them up in colorful Tupperware and ribbons, and give them to friends, family, and teachers. In college, I’d bake drop cookies or cupcakes for the weekly newspaper copy editors meetings. I was always the friend who baked something for a party. At my first job in NYC, I’d bake sweets at home, tote them to Manhattan on the Q train, and set them out in the staff break room. I loved it so much, I started a blog. Baking was the way that I showed people that I appreciated them.

When I got to library school, I continued on my baking streak. Oatmeal raisin cookies to trivia night, chocolate chip cookie bars to my job, cupcakes for student ALA meetings. But then, one evening, I was attending a networking mixer (so: already terrible), and a classmate went around the group of library school students, introducing us to…someone I don’t even remember, but it seemed important at the time. But I *do* remember how the introductions went:

“This is X, she works in Special Collections and is going to be an archivist.”

“This is Y, he’s going to be an awesome instruction librarian.”

“This is Z, he’s a great storyteller and is going to be a children’s librarian.”

“This is Dani. She bakes cookies.”

…And that was the last time I baked cookies for anybody in a remotely work-related context.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think the person meant anything by it, and nobody seemed to notice the incongruity in the introductions. But I did, and what it told me that I was being read as less serious than the other people I stood in that circle with. It felt lousy, and distinctly gendered.

In the 2.5 years that I’ve been at my job now, I have never baked anything to take into work. When I want to show my appreciation for my co-workers through food, I stop and pick up donuts, cookies from Trader Joe’s, chocolates. But nothing that comes from my kitchen. And I don’t bring in food very often—more likely now, I’ll just tell someone that they’ve been awesome. I’ve been afraid that people will stop seeing me for my work, and start seeing me as…library mom?

One day, I picked up Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and, flipping through, something caught my eye. “Don’t feed people,” Frankel said. And especially, don’t bake cookies yourself. It will “sabotage” you in the workplace, and people will see you as Betty Crocker.

This plays out all over the Internet. Here’s an article from Forbes in 2012 about how most experts say that baking is self-sabotage for women.

Here’s Ask a Manager on the issue. tl;dr: she presents other “masculine” traits in the office, so baking isn’t going to undermine that. UM WHAT. So if  I’m “blunt, assertive, kind of a hard-ass, and not a sugar-coater,” then I can make all the brownies I want; if not, not? And if I’m not a manager, can I bake without potentially sacrificing my climb up the library ladder?

All of which is to say: I’ve bought into this for a long time now. But I’ve been thinking a lot about librarianship and management and gender recently, and I think I’m about ready to call BS.

Baking is just one example, but what other parts of ourselves do we have to deny in order to be taken seriously in the workplace? Is it worth it? What does it mean to elide parts of yourself so that you aren’t just described as “the girl who bakes”? At what point does my work speak for itself and I don’t have to worry about this anymore?

It seems like it probably never ends, and giving into this way of thinking is letting traditional gender perceptions control us, even while we are explicitly trying to buck them.

So: can you be a kickass instruction librarian and respected by your colleagues and bring in the occasional pecan bar? Or whatever other traditionally gendered personality trait (some other fun ones from Frankel: needing to be liked, not needing to be liked, holding your tongue, decorating your office, HELPING) makes you feel like you, a human being? It’s not about the cookies, yo. And I’m over it, and it seems like the way to change this is not by giving into it.

Have you experienced this? How do you deal with it? I hope you’ll share in the comments!

EDIT: Many thanks to Keri Cascio, who let me know about the #libleadgender conversation going on–started by an excellent article by Jessica Olin and Michelle Millet at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Looking forward to joining in future conversations!

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14 Comments

Filed under On Being Human, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game

14 responses to “If You Give a Librarian a Cookie…

  1. At the end of each Fall semester, our library has a huge study event to help our students get ready for finals. As the outreach coordinator, I do a lot of the planning for this event; it’s like planning a wedding. Each year, on the day before the event, I take a half day so that I can bake hundreds of cookies for the students. Sure, the library could just buy cookies, but it makes me happy to bake them. It’s “me” time before one of the craziest days of my year. It’s not “serious,” but there’s value to it.

    I believe in authenticity. Let the haters judge me by my cookies and the posters on my office walls; I’m just trying to get things done and have a good time. I’m not motivated to pretend I am a completely different person, just so I can see that made-up person climb the career ladder.

    • Dani B. Cook

      “I’m not motivated to pretend I am a completely different person, just so I can see that made-up person climb the career ladder.” <- I love this. My father-in-law likes to say, "If work was supposed to be fun, it would be called fun, not work." BUT I don't think that means that we can't find joy in what we do, and if that's baking cookies, or building a turkey out of books for Thanksgiving Instagram, or using your own personal examples in instruction sessions, or whatever allows you to be a little bit *you*, I agree that adds value to both the organization and yourself.

      I guess the thing that sticks with me most, though, is that it's not necessarily just haters hating–it's people not even thinking about the judgments they are making, the boxes they are putting people in. And that doesn't get better unless we talk about it, experience it, and bring it out to be discussed. So I'm going to bake cookies (or whatever), people can say something if they so choose, and then we're going to talk about it. That's where I'm at right now.

  2. When I started my job a little over a year ago, I used to bake a lot for work. I’d bring it triple chocolate brownies for my office mate’s birthday, lemon bars to celebrate the end of finals, etc. Part of it is that I enjoy baking a lot and I like not having all that around the house. Part of it is that I wanted to be liked by my new coworkers and my student employees.

    I still bring in baked goods occasionally, but certainly don’t feel obligated to. I bake for parties to give our student workers a taste of home. I think my baking skills are probably part of what they remember about me. But the thing students tell each other most about me is that I’m a kick-ass at finding things. And I consider that a win.

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  6. Yup. And in the other direction, it also works just like you’d expect. I know a guy who’s a world class cook. Seriously. Michelin three star. He’s constantly bringing in food for his students, fellow teachers, staffers. Does anybody call him “the guy who cooks”? Of course not. They think he’s a genius. My God. In addition to doing his job, he can cook!

    This is a seriously messed up world we live in. And, worst of all, and even though not-cooking is the only thing any woman can do, it’s still a reaction to the idiot gender boxes, not outside them.

  7. Such an interesting question, and one I wrestle with. I tend to agree with all of your points as well as those in the comments, “…giving into this way of thinking is letting traditional gender perceptions control us, even while we are explicitly trying to buck them.” Do I bake end-of-semester treats for my FYS class or do I just buy some candy? What about if I send leftover banana bread with my husband to his class? I seem to have settled on being most comfortable baking for guests in my own home or in the homes of others, and keeping the baking largely out of my professional life, but is it because I truly feel best this way or is it because I’m worried about what people say? It’s a tough nut, for sure.

  8. Great post! I usually don’t bring in food to work. I like to invite a few people over to my house and make them a memorable dinner. Also, I usually throw in some home made beer or “vintage” cocktails which, after reading your article, might be my attempt at inserting some masculinity to the moment. I hadn’t thought of baking cookies for work as one way that a person’s identity could become negatively gender associated, but it does make sense. Perhaps the trick is to wait until one’s work identity is firmly about his or her working ability before bringing in cookies? Perhaps the trick is to bring in snacks that are a bit unusual or more gender neutral like peanut brittle or some kind of curry? I don’t know. Anyways, your post was both entertaining and thought provoking. Thanks!

    • Dani B. Cook

      That’s an interesting thought, that the type of food might make a difference, since cookies might be gendered and read as “mom.” I suspect that food at all though is read as nurturing and thus gendered…

  9. Reblogged this on Cheeky Librarian and commented:
    This is a great post by Dani B. Cook. Read if you have a soul and enjoy mental engagement with the world. Think I’m exaggerating? One way to find out 😉

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